New study finds vitamin E effective at relieving the chronic symptoms of asthma

Asthma, a chronic inflammation of the lung airways, has been around since the ancient Egyptian times. This disease plagues approximately 26 millions Americans today, and the number increases every year. Historical records show hundreds of remedies and recipes to help with the symptoms asthma brings, but none have been successful enough to cure the illness. Fortunately, researchers from the University of North Carolina School of Medicine may be a step closer to discovering the cure: Patients who take vitamin E supplements (gamma tocopherol) were found to have less inflammation in their lung airways.

The study, published in Journal of Allergy & Clinical Immunology, reports that gamma tocopherol, a type of vitamin E, may reduce eosinophilic inflammation, which is a common symptom in asthmatic patients. The study was funded by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, and involved experts such as Michelle Hernandez and Allison Burbank, who were the main authors of the study.

Vitamin E comes in different isoforms (variants). Vitamin supplements contain alpha tocopherol, which is not particularly effective in the reduction of eosinophilic inflammation, and was even associated with an increased risk for hemorrhagic stroke. Gamma tocopherol, on the other hand, has inflammation-reducing properties that the alpha isoform does not have. This vitamin E isoform can be found naturally in nuts and in nut oil. The study found gamma tocopherol to contain antioxidant properties and anti-inflammatory actions.

Participants in the study were randomly divided into two groups. Either group received a gamma tocopherol supplement or a placebo for two weeks. After two weeks, participants were asked to cough up sputum (a mixture of saliva and mucus from the respiratory tract) and were asked to inhale a substance that causes inflammation in the lungs. The participants then were asked to inhale a substance that triggered inflammation in the lungs, and were then again directed to cough up more sputum. This allowed the researchers to determine the different responses to the substance inhaled. The next part of the study included a three-week abstain from the supplements and placebo, and participants were then switched to the other group: Group A who used to take the supplements were now given the placebo, and vice-versa for Group B. The results show a consistency between individuals – taking the gamma tocopherol supplement reduced eosinophilic inflammation. Furthermore, individuals who took the vitamin E supplement were found to have less levels of mucins, which affect the viscosity of mucus. Asthma often entails stickier mucus from higher levels of mucins.

Researchers state that they have a long way to go in order to develop a treatment for the symptoms of asthma using data from this study. They emphasize the need for the study to be  continued over longer period of time. This is to be able to identify other factors such as the patient’s necessity for rescue inhalers, frequency of hospital admissions, and what not.

In conclusion, vitamin E, in its gamma tocopherol isoform, may reduce the likeliness of eosinophilic inflammation. Gamma tocopherol can be found naturally in nuts and in nut oil, and researchers suggest incorporating these natural whole foods into the daily nutrition of asthmatics may prove helpful.

Fast facts on asthma

  • Asthma comes from the Greek verb aazein, which means “to pant”, “to exhale”, or “to breath sharply”.
  • This disease is often characterized by coughing, chest tightness, wheezing, and shortness of breath.
  • Asthma is often hereditary, but may also be developed by environmental factors. Attacks can be triggered in a similar fashion to allergy, including factors such as ragweed, pollen, animal dander, or dust mites.
  • This condition affects more children (9.4 percent) than adults (7.7 percent), and more females (9.2 percent) than males (seven percent).
  • Almost 3,600 people die each year due to asthma and its complications. Nearly half of the total number of people are older adults aged 65 and higher.
  • There are different types of respiratory asthma: child-onset asthma, adult-onset asthma, exercise-induced asthma, cough-induced asthma, occupational asthma, nocturnal asthma, and steroid-resistant asthma or severe asthma.

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